Fiona Talkington: Norwegian music has a big role to play in the aftermath of this tragedy

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The Independent Culture

Fiona Talkington, Radio 3 presenter and champion of Norwegian music, on the sounds she fell in love with.

Great music comes from great people, I believe, and that’s what I discovered when I first experienced sounds being produced in Norway. I was struck by Norwegian musicians’ humility (“Why are you interested in us when you come from London?” they’d say), their quiet reserve, their uncompromising passion, their sense of humour, which is so close to our own, their creativity, their compassion, their strength and determination, and the impeccably high standards which they set themselves. Quality is key.

I’ve spent a lot of time in Norway - visiting festivals, working with musicians – and been involved with Norwegian projects both there and in the UK, across all genres. We work together well. There’s a quiet understanding that life is too short not to be creative and make great music.

A few days before the bombing and the shootings, I was sitting overlooking the fjord and the mountains in Molde during the Molde Jazz Festival, talking about the music, talking to the musicians, the sound guys, the arrangers, everyone who works together to ensure that the best possible music happens in the best possible way. The week before that, I’d been in Førde, where musicians from as far afield as the Solomon Islands and China were sharing their traditions with Norway’s Hardanger fiddle heritage. This was all in my head when I got home and saw the pictures of the devastation in familiar streets in Oslo.

Like so many lovers of Norwegian music, my awakening came through the brilliant ECM label. It opened gateways into the Nordic jazz scene, sounds which were daring to be different and daring to be honest. Have a listen, for example, to Jan Garbarek’s Rosensfole, the album he recorded with folk singer Agnes Buen Garnås in 1989. Saxophone and cattle calls? What’s going on here?

It was in Missouri in the early 1990s that I met the Ophelia Ragtime Orchestra. “You’re not from round here are you?” they said to me at Kansas City Airport while we were all waiting for a car. “We’re from Norway”. I have a lot to thank these guys for. We became good friends and I learned that not only were they a great jazz band, but they each had many other musical talents, interests and projects. That, I was to learn, is typical of Norwegian musicians.

I visited them in Oslo and discovered that when you know one Norwegian you quickly know at least another 10. I was hearing so much interesting music that I’d never come across before, but, most importantly, I was beginning to understand where this music was coming from.

I was drawn to Norway by its music – and fell in love with its people. And I believe the musicians of Norway have a big role to play in the aftermath of what has happened to their country. As they continue their international touring, their projects and collaborations, they just need to hang on to what they’ve already been doing for a long time, displaying passionate creativity of the highest order. Through their music, and the quiet professional way in which they work, they can show that the Norwegian spirit is as inspiring as ever.

Fiona Talkington presents Late Junction on BBC Radio 3. In 2009 she was awarded the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit for her services to Norwegian arts.